Why you should stop rejecting 'ugly' food
If you throw out blemished apples and misshapen cucumbers or avoid them in the supermarket, think again.
"Ugly" produce is being embraced overseas, packaged up and sold by supermarkets in Denmark and the United Kingdom, where it is now so fashionable that there are emojis of misshapen strawberries giving the thumbs up.
Such developments are good news for American food waste activist Jonathan Bloom. If he had his way, New Zealand would do the same as part of a national effort to reduce food waste, uneaten food which costs $872 million a year. We would also consider following France's lead and ban supermarket food waste being sent to the landfill, composting would be mandatory, restaurant "doggy bags" would become the norm, and we would change our food labels so they're no longer confusing.
Addressing the WasteMinz industry conference this week, Bloom says many stores want to sell imperfect produce but it is rejected by customers. We have also become paranoid about food safety, throwing out edible food because of rigid "best before" dates. "I eat things well past their date and I'm still here."
"Food doesn't just die at a certain point. If you were going from the first point on that spectrum, then you're throwing away a lot of good food. Trust your senses - smell and sight."
The author of the book, American Wasteland, who writes and blogs as "Wasted Food Dude", says: "We've conditioned people to expect perfection and homogenity but that's not reality. We need greater acceptance of foods and there is a nice tie-in with accepting people who look different from you."
Overseas, France is cracking down on food waste and has introduced legislation banning big supermarkets from destroying unsold but edible food, slapping fines and threatening jail sentences. The French government is concerned that food wasted by farmers, processors, restaurants, retailers and consumers is a growing economic, social and environmental problem.
Bloom encourages local councils to consider banning food waste from landfills. If one council does, then others might follow suit. "That would have a dramatic effect throughout the food chain. It would make us look at food as something to be utilised rather than created in abundance and that would lead to a philosophical shift in food waste."
In Wellington, 19 per cent of refuse collected in rubbish bags is food waste, according to Wellington City Council waste operations manager Adrian Mitchell. Approximately 37 per cent of the Wellington landfill is filled with putrecibles - food, sewage sludge, and green waste. While WasteMINZ's Love Food Hate Waste campaign is having an impact, Mitchell says there needs to be a push from central Government.
However, here most landfills are privately owned and most food waste is created by households. While the Waste Management Act would allow the Government to take action, WasteMINZ CEO Paul Evans says: "Our government is more of the carrot rather than the stick. You have to think about the consequences too. If it doesn't go to the landfill, where does it go? France said they would make it illegal and then said, "How the hell are we going to do this?"
Countdown has cut its food waste with waste reduction targets for all stores. While it donated 30,000 food parcels to food banks in the last year, communications manager Kate Porter told the conference it can be difficult getting the food to charities. With nine food rescue partners around the country, such as Wellington's Kaibosh, she says they are not-for-profit, and a landfill food waste ban would be "extremely difficult" without a well-funded infrastructure. "We have stores where we can't find a food rescue partner. In the North Shore, there is no organisation doing it, and the capacity isn't there to move the food around."
Countdown sells cheap, bargain apples and they do go out the door. But when buying produce off farmers, Porter says: "Our customers demand a specification and we give that to our produce farmers." But she suggested plans are afoot to sell ugly produce.
Referring to the Kapiti restaurant that sparked a furore after banning "doggy bags", Bloom says he was "really astounded" that many restaurants don't allow people to take food home, often for food safety reasons. An Otago University survey found 87 per cent of us would like to take our food home. "I do think we have all become a bit paranoid about our food. The case in point would be this kerfuffle over doggy bags and the idea that food might go bad on the way home. That's just madness. By that same rationale, wouldn't supermarkets be worried that food might go bad on the way home?"
As Italy sells "designer" takeaway food bags to restaurants, he says: "Hopefully 'doggy bags' will become more of a norm here."
While he is encouraged about the number of food rescue operations operating here to reduce food waste and redistribute food to the hungry, he points to other trends happening overseas: Italy is encouraging food companies to donate their unsold food, incentivising by offering them landfill discounts. Parts of the United States offer tax deductions to stores and supermarkets that reduce their waste. Denmark has become an exemplar, reducing food waste by 25 per cent. Its charity supermarket, Be Food, sells rejected food that would otherwise be thrown out.
"The city is a bit abuzz on this notion of reducing food waste. It's got to the point where it's almost trendy to shop there."
However, Bloom says there can be a backlash if the industry is overpoliced. Seattle has mandated composting and does "trash inspections", sparking a backlash about "food cops".
"I don't think it's worth that."